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thus used in the sense of moral causation, the effect being dependent upon volition or intelligence,—it will become necessary to examine further, What are the circumstances under which we can recognise the operation of moral causes ? and What the evidence by which their existence is substantiated ?
Evidence of Moral Causation.
In pursuing the inquiry into the evidence we have of the influence of moral causes, we have only to bear in mind the distinction at first laid down; by the aid of which, it will be apparent how the operation of moral causes is distinguishable from the succession of physical. Moral causation, as we have observed, implies volition and intelligence: it is consequently marked by the indications of intelligence in the results produced. In the illustration before given *, we supposed a known intelligent agent exerting a physical influence on matter. If we witness only effects produced on matter, how are we to recognise an unseen intelligent agent, is the question now before us.
To recur to an illustration similar to that before employed :-If a stone strike against an object, it may have been projected either by some merely mechanical power, or by a voluntary agent; and if we saw only the resulting impact, and not the origination of the motion, we should be unable to
* Above, p. 80.
decide which was the cause.
But if we saw a number of such projectiles striking the object in succession, and all hitting it upon a certain mark, we should immediately conclude that the projectiles were aimed at that mark, and, therefore, that the whole was the result of some moral volition. And further, if we should see that the balls were impelled by the aid of a machine, and should find that it was so constructed as to discharge a number successively, without the intervention of any manual agency, this surely would in no way diminish our impression, that the whole was designed, and originally set in action, by an intelligent agent. Nor, again, would it make any difference in our conclusion, whether or not we could discover any particular end which might be answered in striking the object; though, if we should perceive or conjecture such a design, it would of course add a further confirmation of our original impression.
If, on the contrary, we perceived the balls projected at random, at irregular intervals, and in various directions, we could not infer such design or intelligence. In a word, from results apparently capricious, from effects uncertain and interrupted, from action regulated by no seeming plan, but of an arbitrary and inconstant character, we could infer no design, no volition, no moral cause. It is when results are reducible to regular rules, when observed actions are found to be consistent with some fixed and constant system ; when phenomena can be
traced up to their determinate laws, or in other words (agreeably to what has been above maintained), to their physical causes, then, and then alone, it is, that we can ascend to the idea of a regulating moral cause; and deduce the conclusion of superintending volition and designing intelligence.
In general then, the evidence and stamp of moral agency and intelligent influence, is found in the discovery of a uniform consistency in the results, in a regular arrangement of parts adapted to each other, and to the whole, such as to preclude at once the idea of caprice and chance, and that of blind unforeseeing fatality. And this may be distinguished into two kinds :- 1st. Where a fixed end is discoverable, and we observe the direction of means to it, and changes taking place in furtherance of it. 2nd. Where, although no such end is discoverable, and no change takes place, yet we perceive things arranged in a certain invariable order and symmetry.
In the study of the actual laws, mechanism, and arrangement of the natural world, we have a magnificent field open before us, in which to pursue the inquiry, whether such indications of moral causation can be traced; and this inquiry is in fact, in its most essential point, already answered in the conclusions at which we arrive by inductive science, the universal order and invariable harmony pervading the material universe.
The application of the truths disclosed by the study of the laws of nature, and the dependence of physical causes, is, indeed, not to be mistaken ; and it may be truly said, that the sublime conclusions of natural theology, in their general and popular acceptation, are obvious on the most cursory survey of the natural world, and at once convincing, even to the most uninstructed apprehension. Unless miserably blinded by prejudice, or incapacitated by moral perversion, the most untaught mind instantly recognises the evidences of the Divine existence and attributes, and unhesitatingly regards the visible order and adaptations of the natural world, as no other than the created manifestations of the Divine perfections.
Let us, however, observe that the special object of natural theology, as a science, is to analyse the precise steps by which these conclusions are attained, and examine the security of the ground on which they rest. The preceding portion of this inquiry has been directed in its proper way, towards this object, by scrutinizing the more general grounds on which all our ideas of the relation of effects to their causes depend; and it is to the more particular application of these views to the great argument of natural theology that we are now to proceed.
Nature of Final Causes.
At the outset of this inquiry, we meet with an expression very commonly employed, but often with little attention to accuracy of meaning ; the consideration of what are called “ final causes,” is referred
to as the main evidence afforded by the study of nature, for the existence and perfections of the Deity. Here then, as in other cases, it is to the meaning of the term that our attention must, in the first instance, be carefully directed. Now the application of the word “cause,” when we speak of “final causes,” is somewhat peculiar, and, in fact, such as very commonly to occasion mistake and difficulty. Yet the phrase has been perhaps too strongly sanctioned by custom to allow an expectation that it can be generally discarded, even though we should gain considerably in perspicuity, by adopting other expressions to convey the same meaning.
A few instances will serve to illustrate the use of the term :The circulation of the blood is said to be the final cause of the valves in the blood vessels. It would not be considered correct language to call it the cause simply: though by another modification of the word, we might say that the valves are provided because of the circulation. We might easily illustrate the distinction by abundance of other examples, from all parts of the natural world.
The variation of the seasons is said to be the final cause of the obliquity of the earth's axis. The graminivorous or carnivorous constitution of animals, the final cause of the respective forms of their teeth and feet. The painting of the image, exactly on the retina, is the final cause for the lens of the eye having precisely that focal length, and the medium a corresponding refracting power. Whilst the form